J D Davies

Ancient Wreck

To Wales for the weekend for my ‘big birthday’ (clue: I won’t see my twenties again – or several other decades, either). While there, we went for a bracing walk along Cefn Sidan beach, one of the relatively lesser known treasures of the Welsh coastline. By any measure, the beach is stunning in its own right – over seven miles of uninterrupted broad sands backed by a country park built on the site of an old WW1 and WW2 ordnance factory. But the feature that makes Cefn Sidan unique is the extraordinary profusion of visible wrecks, a reminder of its tragic history as a particularly dangerous stretch of coast. The prevailing sou’westerlies led many a ship to be blown off course into Carmarthen Bay, where the endlessly shifting sandbanks, notably the Carmarthen Bar, led to them ending up on Cefn Sidan. Local legend has it that many were lured there deliberately, too, by the wreckers who thronged this stretch of the coast – the Gwyr-y-Bwelli Bach, the people of the little hatchets. There’s an imaginative account of their activities here, although Adeline Coquelin was actually the niece of the Empress Josephine, not her husband Napoleon Bonaparte.

The Coquelin gravestone, Pembrey church

We did our walk during the couple of hours before low tide, and saw around half a dozen wrecks in that time, part buried in the sands. (Others, notably the iron ships Teviotdale and Craigwhinnie, and the huge Hamburg windjammer Paul, lie further out into the Gwendraeth estuary.) Several of the beach’s wrecks were exposed by the storms of 2014, having been buried for many years, and constant changes in the sands regularly unearth other remains. Sadly, though, none of the wrecks on the foreshore have been positively identified. It’s been suggested* that the first one, only some 800 metres from the main access point to the beach, is the wreck of the Brothers, barque rigged, built at Hull in 1822, and en route from Bahia to Liverpool when she came ashore on Cefn Sidan on 20 December 1833, perhaps due to the activities of the gwyr-y-gwelli bach. Personally, I have my doubts about this identification; the wreck seems simply too intact (relatively speaking) to be of that vintage. Another candidate is a French ship named the Marie Therese, lost in 1907, although I’ve not been able to trace much information about her. Maybe some of the sailing ship buffs and marine archaeologists who follow this blog might want to contribute their thoughts, based on the following photos!

The first of the Cefn Sidan Wrecks – but is it the Brothers, lost in 1833?

Another view of the same wreck

Final view of the same wreck – one for this blog’s many futtock fetishist followers

A much smaller but quite broad hulled wreck- maybe a coasting collier?

Another view of the same ship

Only a few score yards further lie these skeletal remains

…and immediately astern of the previous wreck lies this very small craft


*  Tom Bennett, Wrecks on Welsh Beaches (e-book available via Google Books)